As gay couples celebrate their new right to marry, a Warrington solicitor believes the campaign has shone a useful spotlight on the benefits of all couples, homosexual and heterosexual, formally tying the knot.
Audrey Venables, head of family law at FDR Law, says too many unmarried couples put their trust in the erroneous belief they gain legal status as a common-law couple after a certain length of time.
She says: “You would be surprised how many intelligent, well-educated people live under the misconception they have rights to their partner’s property, savings and pensions, if they split up.
“If you live in a house which is registered only in your partner’s name or have built up a joint business which does not specify you as an owner, you could walk away from a relationship with nothing unless you are married.”
A case earlier this year highlighted the issue when a county court ruled Pamela Curran, who had lived with her partner Brian Collins for 30 years, was entitled to nothing when the relationship ended. She had lived in a house which was in his name only and despite jointly running a kennel and cattery business, she was denied any share in the property or business when they split.
“Although many couples live together and even have children without a formal marriage certificate, the law has not caught up with this expanding social trend, leaving many people, particularly women, unprotected and vulnerable,” she says.
“If couples are determined not to enter into a formal marriage, there can be ways of protecting their assets through the law of trusts, but as the law stands, a marriage certificate is the only guarantee of equitable treatment.”
And she adds: “And even for those who have been married, it’s important to finalise the finances with a formal court order. Wind farm millionaire Dale Vince recently had to fight off a challenge for a share in his new green energy fortune from his ex-wife, who walked out on him 20 years ago. The court ruled he owed her nothing but it’s always important to dot the ‘i’s and ‘t’s and draw a formal line under a relationship.”
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